If your running routine is becoming monotonous, you are regularly getting the same injuries, or you are not becoming a faster runner; you may want to consider strength training. When you think about ways to become a faster runner you may think that getting out on the road and getting as many miles under your belt as possible is a great option. This is known as long slow distance (LSD) work. Other options you may know about are hill runs, changing terrain by running in mud or sand or doing interval training. These are all excellent options, but I want you to know that there are limitations to only using running in your training.
Running Strength Training For Muscle Imbalances
Everyone will have muscle imbalances from running that are caused by your running muscles constantly shortening and increasing in strength. Other muscles in your body will remain under worked and become weaker. The strength imbalances between these pairs of muscle can lead to injury. Think about the pain you may experience in the back of your upper leg when you try to touch your toes from a standing position without bending your knees. That pain you experience is probably because that muscle is over used and has become strong and short. In other words the muscle feels tight.
What happens when we run?
When a muscle becomes short it is often when that muscle has been exercised a lot without being stretched and is probably too strong. Since muscles work in pairs, there will be a muscle that opposes your strong and short muscle. This muscle will become longer and grow weak. What you will need to do to restore the balance is stretch out the short strong muscle in your body and strengthen the weak long muscles in your body. This is why strength training 1-3 times a week can be great as it can help prevent injuries, improve core strength. You can also increase your running speed by training the key muscles involved in running.
Wont strength training make me get big?
To answer that question in one word, no. You wont get big, bulky and slower from strength training. In fact there are many top runners past and present who include strength training in there training regimes. Mo Farah does strength training as part of his training routines and look at there physiques. I read that Paula Radcliffe does strength training 3 times a week, so if it is good enough for a world champion it will work for you. The main thing to understand about strength training is to understand the type of changes you want to experience. The amount of sets, repetitions and intensity that you will need to perform is going to vary if you want to train to increase explosive power, muscle size or aerobic endurance. How does strength training help me run faster? Running speed is made up of two main factors. Your stride length and stride frequency (cadence). Stride frequency or cadence is how many steps you take per minute. These two variables can be improved with running coaching, and if you haven’t had any running coaching I recommend you see a running coach. However, once you are at the ideal running cadence and stride length for your body the only way that you can improve your running speed is to improve the amount of power that you produce with each stride you take. This is why strength training is so beneficial. For instance, if you are currently using 30% of your bodies strength to produce force with each stride you take and we increase your maximum strength, you will produce more force with each stride you take due to the increase in average force production. For example if you’re maximum strength is 1000 newtons of force. 30% of that will be 300 newtons. If you increase your max strength to 2000 newtons, 30% will be 600 newtons per stride. When you consider that for every mile you run you will probably be averaging 1400 steps per mile (this will vary from person to person due to running cadence and stride length). If you have improved your force production by 5% or more force you will cover a greater distance with each stride you take. This will knock minutes of your times on distances greater then 3 miles if you are new to strength training.
Strength training improves the way your running muscles work!
The rate of your force development improves once you start strength training due to the improvement in elastic energy. The easiest way to think of elastic energy is to picture yourself jumping as high as you possibly can. The first thing that you will do when you try to jump higher is to swing your arms back, squat down low and explode into a vertical jump without pausing. The lowering phase where you squat down and swing your arms is known as a counter movement. If you performed a second jump as high as you can and you produced the same counter movement, but this time you wait with your knees bent and arms swung back for 10 seconds, and then you produce the jump you will produce less force and produce less height. This is because your muscles act like a spring or an elastic band. You can increase the force that the muscle will produce by giving the muscle a pre-stretch and then immediately use the stored energy from the pre stretch. This is called elastic energy and you can improve elastic energy through training. Although running is different to jumping there are many pre-stretches that the muscles go through during running. If you can improve your elastic energy through strength training it will allow your muscles to produce force faster, which will allow your muscles greater time to relax. This greater efficiency will lead to greater running economy, and speed due to the amount of relaxation. If you want to see an example of a running strength training plan read this article I wrote a few weeks ago.
Do you do strength training? If you have any questions about this article or want to share your experiences please leave a comment below.
Gerald has a bachelor’s degree in Exercise, Nutrition & Health. He is an ASA qualified swimming teacher, and a qualified personal trainer. Gerald has developed his own exclusion diet, which he uses to help his clients lose weight.